Coronavirus: Renters ‘need more help’ in UK’s plans

2 weeks ago
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The government is being urged to do more for families, workers and tenants affected by coronavirus after it announced £350bn of help for companies.

Ministers promised mortgage “holidays”, £330bn in loans and £20bn in other aid.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the government was ready to do more to keep people in their jobs.

It comes as supermarkets bring in strict limits on purchases, the BBC puts filming of EastEnders on hold and Glastonbury Festival is postponed.

In the UK, 71 people with coronavirus have died.

And in other developments across the globe:

In the UK, supermarkets continue to introduce measures to try to stop customers stockpiling and ensure vulnerable people get food during the crisis.

Sainsbury’s says it will prioritise elderly and other vulnerable people for online deliveries, as both Sainsbury’s and Asda limit people to buying no more than three of any food item.

Other retailers including Tesco and Boots have set limits on particularly popular products including pasta, tissues and hand sanitiser.

Meanwhile, lorry drivers transporting essential goods to supermarkets will be allowed to stay on the road longer without a break after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps temporarily relaxed the rules.

On the TV, EastEnders will be broadcast just twice a week – rather than four times – as the BBC postpones filming of the soap opera and other dramas “until further notice”

And Glastonbury Festival’s 50th anniversary event has been postponed from June 2020 until 2021, its organisers said.

Meanwhile, efforts are under way across the country to support NHS workers. Chelsea Football Club is giving free accommodation to NHS staff in London, while Pret is offering them free hot drinks and half-price food.

Elsewhere, car manufacturers are among the latest companies to be affected with Toyota and BMW both suspending production at their UK factories. Toyota employ more than 3,200 people in the UK, while BMW has 6,000 manufacturing staff.

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Unveiling the financial measures at a press conference on Tuesday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to do “whatever it takes” to support the UK economy through a challenge unprecedented in peacetime.

The chancellor said the £330bn in loans – equivalent to 15% of GDP – would be available from next week to help businesses pay for supplies, rent and salaries.

Other measures to be put in place include extended business rates relief for all firms in the hospitality sector and funding grants of between £10,000 and £25,000 for small businesses.

Mortgage lenders will also offer a three-month holiday for people in financial difficulty as a result of the virus.

Help for airlines, which have been hit by travel bans and a slump in demand, is also being considered.

Rachel Reeves, Labour chairwoman of the Commons Business Committee, said there was nothing in the chancellor’s announcement to offer financial support to people who were already on statutory sick pay, self-isolating or had been laid off.

And unions raised concerns there were no measures to help freelancers and people working in the gig economy.

Other MPs called for more help for renters.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the government to suspend home rental fees and ban evictions of tenants during the coronavirus crisis.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma told BBC Breakfast that measures which will offer support to renters will be announced “very shortly”.

The prime minister is likely to face more questions on the government’s response to the crisis when he appears before MPs in the Commons for Prime Minister’s Questions at 12:00 GMT.

MPs were told to stay away from the Commons unless they have proposed a question in advance – those attending have been asked to “space yourselves out”.

Companies and trade bodies welcomed the financial measures, but said they needed to work through the fine print.

Adam Marshall, chief executive of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the size of the grants and loans were good news for smaller businesses.

“But what’s going to be hugely important is that cash actually gets to the front line and gets there quickly,” he said.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, said the business rates holiday offered “a substantial level of support” but was “probably not well targeted at saving jobs in those industries”.

“It will remain as expensive to pay people and if demand is down then jobs are likely to go,” he added.

He said it may be necessary to cut employer national insurance contributions, delay increases to the National Living Wage, and increase support for individuals through Universal Credit.

The additional measures came after the public were told to avoid all non-essential contact and travel.

By next weekend, those with the most serious health conditions must be “largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks”, under the latest government guidance.

Testing procedure ‘alarming’

Some doctors have called for more testing for the virus among NHS workers to prevent any unnecessary absences.

Iszy Lord, 25, works at a hospital in Grimsby and lives with five other doctors – they are all self-isolating for 14 days after some of them developed symptoms.

“What’s going to happen if anyone gets anything resembling a cold for the next few months, are we going to have to self-isolate for 14 days each time? It’s alarming,” she told the BBC.

“If we are tested and don’t have the virus, we could be back at work in two to three days rather than two weeks.”

Leading scientists at Porton Down, the Ministry of Defence’s highly secure research laboratory in Wiltshire, have been called in to help deal with the spread of coronavirus, the BBC has been told.

A team of about 10 defence scientists at the laboratory are now working with public health officials to analyse the spread of the virus and to help with testing.

The laboratory was also called in to help following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

The number of people who have died with the virus in the UK reached 71 on Tuesday, after a second death was confirmed in Scotland, as well as a second in Wales and a further 14 in England.

The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it would be a “good outcome” for the UK if the number of deaths from the virus could be kept below 20,000.

Some 1,950 people have tested positive for the virus in the UK, according to the latest Department of Health figures – but the actual number of cases could be as high as 55,000.

Among the latest confirmed cases is a newborn baby at James Paget hospital in Norfolk.

In other UK developments:

  • Parkrun, which organises 5km weekly runs around the world, has suspended its 675 events in the UK until at least the end of March
  • Department store chain Selfridges is closing its London, Birmingham and Manchester stores from 19:00 GMT on Wednesday
  • The United Synagogue – the biggest group of synagogues in the UK – has closed all of its synagogues until further notice
  • British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been temporarily released from prison in Iran because of the outbreak. She will be required to remain within 300m (984ft) of her parents’ home in Tehran
  • All non-urgent operations in England and Scotland will be postponed from 15 April for at least three months to free up beds for virus patients
  • The Foreign Office advised British nationals to avoid all non-essential foreign travel for at least 30 days
  • No new Crown Court trials will take place in England and Wales if they are expected to last longer than three days
  • The government set out emergency legislation, which would give police the powers to arrest and isolate people to protect public health

Are you in rental accommodation? Have you been affected by coronavirus? Share your experiences by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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